BBC in a spin over Robert Peston's inside track to News International

"Can someone please tell me who Robert Peston works for?" asked one respondent yesterday on the BBC business editor's must-read blog on the corporation's website.

Click HERE to view graphic (74k jpg)

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been an influential figure in exposing the extent of phone hacking at News International, was voicing similar concerns: "Robert Peston is being spoon-fed the internal NI document handed over to the Met in chunks. They're spinning their bad news. It's not right."

The award-winning Mr Peston is known for his extensive contacts book and among his close friends are two fellow north Londoners: Will Lewis, a former professional colleague and now the general manager at Rupert Murdoch's News International; and Simon Greenberg, who was picked by Mr Lewis to become the company's director of corporate affairs.

Mr Lewis and Mr Greenberg are members of the new News International "Management and Standards Committee" and have been part of the recent confidential discussions between the company and Scotland Yard.

Shortly before Christmas, Mr Peston hosted a private event at the BBC at which James Murdoch, News Corp's chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia, talked of the company's future plans. Mr Murdoch, who attended at the invitation of the BBC, addressed a select group of less than 20 senior BBC figures and discussed the News Corp bid for total control of BSkyB, although he made no reference to the phone-hacking affair.

That event and Mr Peston's role at it are indicative of the business editor's status, although he had previously clashed with James Murdoch at a dinner in Edinburgh in 2009, shortly after the News Corp scion had made a public attack on the BBC.

Mr Peston's relations with Mr Lewis, with whom he formerly worked at the Financial Times, go much deeper.

None of this would be a problem for the BBC if it were not for the suggestion that Mr Peston's scoops this month were helpful to Mr Murdoch's media organisation or factions within it.

Mr Peston's first exclusive, revealed on the Ten O'Clock News on Tuesday last week, was the discovery by News International of emails showing payments to the police by the News of the World during the editorship of Andy Coulson. The story heaped further blame on Mr Coulson, who was questioned by police last Friday.

By Sunday, Mr Peston had gone further, revealing that emails had been found which appeared to show Mr Coulson had authorised the payments. The next day he released further details from the communications, claiming they showed Mr Coulson's paper paid a Royal Protection Officer for the contact details of members of the Royal Family.

As concerns were raised over Mr Peston's role in the story, some of his respondents expressed concern. "Is there a chance that Will [Lewis] is using you and will dump you in it at some suitable juncture?" asked David Lester yesterday. "Because from where I'm sitting, I wouldn't want to get caught between the forces now coming into play."

The BBC's position in reporting this story is particularly sensitive, given its intense rivalry with News Corp. The BBC director-general Mark Thompson responded to James Murdoch's 2009 attack with an assault on BSkyB's lack of contribution to the British creative industries. Later, Mr Thompson signed up to a letter of concern over News Corp's bid to fully own the satellite broadcaster, prompting criticisms from the BBC Trust, which feared the letter would not assist BBC's journalists in covering the story impartially.

Mr Peston's department manager, Jeremy Hillman, editor of the BBC Economics and Business Unit, defended his colleague. "Robert almost always uses multiple sources for anything he reports and we reject the suggestion that there is any bias in Robert's reports, or indeed any conflict of interest because none exists," he said.

"It would be very hard to make a convincing case that Robert's reporting is anything other than impartial, reflecting a range of views and interests on this complex story."

Robert Peston's hacking reports

* In his first big scoop, on 5 July, Robert Peston reported, with some understatement, the "significant development" that the News of the World under former editor Andy Coulson had paid police officers for information. He later admitted: "I obtained this story in a circuitous route, when I heard that Vanity Fair was planning to publish a story on alleged payments to police."



* Days later, on 10 July, the BBC business editor dropped the news that News International had found "smoking gun" emails that "appear to show" that Mr Coulson authorised the payments.

* On Monday came further revelations, distracting from the furore surrounding Rebekah Brooks, that the email cache showed that the News of the World under Mr Coulson paid a Royal Protection Officer for Royal phone numbers.



* Collectively the stories were hugely damaging to Mr Coulson, the former Downing Street communications chief. They also gave News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks some respite from being the face of the hacking story, and represented the general manager of News International Will Lewis, Peston's close friend, as the company's new broom.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power